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To combat shadowing and secondary-reflection issues that inspection systems encounter while generating 3D profiles of PCB solder joints, Omron took its flagship VT-S730 3D AOI system and upped the ante, said Brad Ward, ttechnical manager for advanced sensing and inspection solutions at Omron Automation Americas.
“We entered a new era—3D AOI—about 10 years ago. And there were many lessons learned through the last decade, from a hardware and software perspective, about what is and isn’t needed, what works and what doesn’t,” he said, standing in front of the upgrade, the VT-S1080 , at the Omron Chicago Proof of Concept Center. “So, this new generation was designed to take all those lessons and perfect the hardware within a 3D AOI systems—so that we can move beyond hardware and focus on software and AI in industry 4.0.”
Solder joint inspection is known to be the most challenging part of AOI (automated optical inspection) on PCB assembly lines. So, Omron’s goal is to help manufacturers arrive at “more stable, accurate, and reliable 3D profiles of every single solder joint,” Ward said.
Omron’s inspection systems division, with 35 years of AOI experience, released the VT-S1080 in the Americas market about one year ago. “As we continue to overcome supply chain limitations and logistics challenges in the Americas, we anticipate our local installation base of the new platform to quickly catch-up to its popularity we’re seeing in Europe and Asia,” he said.
“In the Americas, we’re just starting to see it begin to take off. And it’s not really dedicated to any particular market or industry. We already have systems in operation at OEMs and contract manufacturers.,” he added. “We have them in high tech industry. We have medical customers using them, too. So, everybody’s interested, and we have a lot more installations in process, just waiting for those machines to make their way over from Japan.”
Going beyond the machine
The 3D AOI system is “all brand-new hardware and technology designed to do everything better. So, it’s an Omron high-speed camera combined with a brand-new generation of digital projectors—and all of that combined with a much more sophisticated and flexible illumination unit, to allow us to better balance color inspection with white light inspection alongside all the 3D capability that it’s doing by default,” Ward said. “And then the processing of all that information—tons and tons of data—is taking place behind the scenes, via new software innovations and AI, to achieve a more stable, accurate, and reliable 3D profile of every single solder joint.”
That translates to conquering shadowing and secondary reflection issues experienced during PCB solder-joint inspection.
Ward describes those issues as “two different sides of the same coin: Shadowing is where we basically can’t penetrate into areas with the illumination as much as we’d like. And secondary reflection is the opposite: It’s too much illumination, where it’s bounce around the neighboring components and creating havoc with the 3D data we’re trying to collect.”
The VT-S1080 was designed “specifically to overcome those things, and that’s exactly what it’s doing,” he said. “We’re seeing exactly what we wanted to see and what our customers were hoping to see, which is an even lower false call rate and even better defect-detection capabilities.”
False calls or over-rejects—”the AOI identifying something that it thinks is bad but really isn’t, that’s waste,” Ward said. False calls require human operator intervention. “And the more false calls you introduce into the process, of course, the more inefficient the whole thing becomes and the less confidence you have in the AOI machine.”
AI upgrades are not to be hurried
The VT-S1080 is “expected to have a much longer platform life,” he said. “It’s designed to be more easily and readily future-upgraded as new vision hardware becomes available, for example. We can swap out the current generation Omron high-speed camera for whatever’s coming next.”
“It’s also packed full of far more Omron industrial automation devices. So we want to do all the things that we can do with Omron technology in control: predictive maintenance, better traceability, pulling data out of the machine itself, and better connectivity to other devices, including other Omron inspection systems, of course.”
Lastly, Omron believes the new 3D AOI system will allow it to “stop focusing so much on the hardware and put our development time and resources into more software, specifically more AI” to innovate and continue pushing the bar for the automated inspection process.
AI upgrades will be chosen carefully, Ward noted. “There are many things that we can do, but it becomes a question of what should we do and what’s safe to do. We’re inspecting mission-critical products where failures can have direct consequences, so just because we can introduce AI to make decisions doesn’t mean that’s the right call or the responsible thing to do. We are taking a very methodical approach when rolling out AI and making these types of decisions.”
That approach includes rolling out AI innovations in Omron’s own manufacturing facilities as beta sites, he said. “So, it’s definitely coming, maybe not at a particularly lightning pace—but that’s by design.”
Editor in Chief Brett Brune
Brett Brune is editor in chief of EETimes.com. He previously edited and reported business news at The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He also previously served as editor-in-chief of SmartGridToday.com, as well as Smart Manufacturing magazine.